TACKLING the long drive to Scotland from our neck of the woods is enough to put anyone off taking a short break north of the border.
So when the opportunity arose to ‘let the train take the strain’ - as the old advertising slogan went - it seemed like the perfect solution.
We’re lucky enough to live close to two stations on the East Coast main line – Retford and Doncaster – which puts us within easy striking distance of both London and Edinburgh.
From here the line stretches north through York to the north-east and, once north of Newcastle, becomes easily one of the most scenic rail journeys in the country.
The line hugs the coast through Northumberland, at times so close to the shoreline that you can look down on the waves crashing against the rocks below.
On a clear day, as we were lucky to have, passengers can see Holy Island, its ruined abbey stretching up to the sky. Then the line passes over the River Tweed and through the stronghold of Berwick-on-Tweed, that northern outpost of England which in its history has been on either side of the Scots/Anglo border, changing hands no fewer than 13 times.
No sooner had England disappeared behind us than we seemed to be arriving in Edinburgh, just three hours after leaving Doncaster.
Less than an hour after that we were enjoying the views from atop Edinburgh Castle with blue skies and sunshine giving us an uninterrupted view of this beautiful capital city with the Pentland hills providing a stunning background on one side and Arthur’s Seat an indomitable landmark on the other.
Edinburgh is a city so rich in history you can almost feel it seeping from the pores of the ancient buildings to be found on seemingly every street. And yet it has a vibrancy about it which makes it attractive to even the youngest visitors.
The National Museum of Scotland on Chamber Street, with its seven floors, contains a treasure trove of artifacts from Scotland and around the world and plenty of hands-on stuff for children to do.
The Camera Obscura, next to the castle, provides an amazing display of optical illusions taking both adults and children alike on a journey of eye-popping discovery. While the camera obscura itself, on the top floor, delivers a 360-degree view of the city and people below.
We stayed in a family room at the Cameron Toll Travelodge, an ideal value-for-money base, which put us within easy striking distance of both the city centre and of Edinburgh’s newest attraction – the giant pandas.
Tian Tian and Yang Guang are the star attraction at Edinburgh Zoo. Booking ahead online is advisable as the queue for the zoo testified on the day we visited. But it was worth the early start and the waiting in line for a glimpse of these lovely creatures which looked as cute as any teddy bear.
They sleep for 16 hours a day so the chances of seeing them doing anything lively are slim but Yang Guang, the boy panda, obliged us by leaving his bed to chew on some bamboo shoots in the corner of his enclosure.
We crammed a lot into our short visit but realised this was only the tip of the iceberg of what Edinburgh has to offer. It’s a pity that Princes Street isn’t at its best at the moment, because of work on building a tram from the airport to the city centre, but this is still a stunningly attractive city.
On the morning we left a lone piper was playing on Princes Street as we made our way to Waverley station for the journey home, a poignant end to our stay. We will be definitely be visiting again.
East Coast trains operate 155 services every weekday on the flagship long-distance route linking London, the East Midlands (including Retford, for connecting local services to/from Worksop), Yorkshire, North East England and Scotland.
Full details of East Coast’s services and bargain advance purchase fares are available online at www.eastcoast.co.uk, or by calling 08457 225225 or visiting any staffed rail station.
Standard Advance return fares from Worksop to Edinburgh, booked online at www.eastcoast.co,uk, start from £23.
East Coast’s recently relaunched First Class service includes complementary food and drinks served at seat, unlimited Wi-Fi internet use throughout the journey, plus extra comfort in larger, reclining seats.
First Class Advance return fares start from £71.20.
Weekend upgrades to first class can be purchased on board the train for the Retford to Edinburgh journey on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays for £15 per single journey, subject to available space.
Edinburgh Cameron Toll Travelodge is at 43 Craigmillar Park, Cameron Toll, Edinburgh EH16 5PD. Tel: 0871 984 6458 or go to www.travelodge.co.uk.